Saturday, February 05, 2011

Progressives and preservation: symbolism and hypocrisy


The kerfuffle over the appointment of Richard Johns to the Historical Preservation Commission is another example of how city progressives prefer symbolic political battles to real battles. Being president of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for four years doesn't qualify Johns on the issues? Ridiculous. Progressives are simply posturing on the issue, since for the last ten years their political movement has been responsible for aggressively pro-development policies in the city.

Without mentioning Johns, Marc Salomon rails against the political influence of developers in San Francisco:

The primary reason why residents leverage CEQA and HP[Historical Preservation] law to the hilt is because land use planning in San Francisco is based on the premise that San Franciscans and the neighborhoods into which we breathe life and vitality are problems that need to be solved. The solution, invariably, is to entitle more, denser, higher rising luxury condominiums that disrespect the existing built environment.

Okay, but why doesn't Salomon mention any specific projects? The answer: his political allies on the Board of Supervisors have been aggressively pro-development in SF since district elections gave them a majority on the board in 2000. Some major projects supported by progressive supervisors I've been writing about for years: the Rincon Hill luxury highrise condos pushed through by Supervisor Daly and approved by a majority on the board, including Supervisor Mirkarimi and Supervisor Peskin; UC's massive housing development on the old UC extension property on lower Haight Street. Supervisor Mirkarimi took the lead to push this huge---450 housing units on six acres---traffic-snarling housing development that will damage a state and federal landmark; and the Market and Octavia Plan---Mirkarimi was the point man again---that rezones thousands of properties in the heart of the city as an incentive for developers, eliminating set-backs and backyards, and raising height limits to encourage population density---40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness!---in an already densely-populated area. Speaking of preservation, the city did no landmark study of the Market/Octavia project that's required by CEQA before the supervisors passed this destructive project with no progressive dissent.

Salomon absolves uber-progressive Daly from any responsibility for the city's aggressively pro-development policies:

When The San Francisco Planning Department rezoned neighborhoods over the past decade, it deployed precisely such a toolkit. Not satisfied with marginalizing neighbors, Planning took care to draw planning area boundaries within 150 feet of former District Six supervisor Chris Daly’s home, conflicting him out of participating and disenfranchising residents, citizens, taxpayers and voters in District Six, ground zero of luxury condo development.

Again, Salomon fails to mention any specific projects, but Daly recused himself from voting on Market/Octavia because his condo was within the project's extensive boundaries.

Now that he's out of office, there's nothing to prevent Daly from speaking out against these projects. He won't because he doesn't disagree with the the Planning Department's trendy, transit corridors, dense development doctrine.

Daly's justification for supporting the Rincon Hill highrise luxury condos? Development fees were somehow supposed to mitigate that massive rezoning, but there's been little accounting of how much has been collected or where the money has gone. (The project never included any affordable housing.)

Former president of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin is on record as supporting highrise development, as long as it's not in North Beach, where he lives. Mirkarmi, too, voted for the Rincon Hill highrises, calling them "a fine deal."

The Bay Guardian piles on in the pseudo-controversy over the Johns appointment:

Progressives and preservationists opposed the nomination on the grounds that Johns isn't a historian and that he has close ties to former Mayor Willie Brown, a friend of developers whose longtime chief of staff was Johns' wife, Eleanor. And they're suspicious of Brown's support---both overt and stealthy---for [Jane]Kim's supervisorial campaign...Kim didn't explain her vote at the full board meeting, and her comments at the Rules Committee (which she chairs) and to the Guardian that Johns "was qualified" and she could "see no reason not to support his nomination" irked many of her progressive supporters who consider development the big issue.

If the Guardian considers "development the big issue," why don't they write about it more? They evidently care more about the great, anti-car bicycle movement than development in SF. Recall that during the approval of the Rincon Hill highrises, the Guardian editorialized lamely that five highrises was too many, that two would be enough!

The silly fight over this appointment can't hide the fact that San Francisco progressives have been rolling over for developers for years.

When city progs do support preservation, they often get it wrong, as they did with the Harding Theater, which was "saved" by Mirkarimi and the supervisors---The Grateful Dead once played there!---from being turned into housing and retail space so that it could continue blighting the middle of Divisadero Street in District 5.

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